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Detecting breast cancer in a drop of blood - A cancer-screening microarray just one innovation supported by Canadian Cancer Society grants

19 March 2013

Montreal, QC -

This morning, a Montreal research team received $190,000 from the Canadian Cancer Society to build a microarray designed to detect breast cancer in a drop of blood. This innovative tool has the potential to revolutionize cancer screening, complementing – and, in the longer term, replacing – mammography.

Cancer cells behave differently from normal cells; in addition, the proteins they produce are very different. Some of these proteins are found in the blood, raising the hope that an effective cancer blood test can be developed. Until now, the technology had not been equal to the challenge. “When tumours are small, these proteins are very diluted in the blood,” explains Dr David Juncker, the project leader. “We need an extremely sensitive tool for early detection of breast cancer in the blood.” The McGill University research team has created a microarray that is designed to detect hundreds of proteins simultaneously. With assistance from colleagues in the United States, the team is striving to make the microarray so sensitive that it will be able to detect a single protein that touches its surface.

Thanks to this new tool, the team aims to determine which combination of proteins would be the best evidence for the presence of breast cancer. To that end, they will attempt to detect about 100 candidate proteins in the blood of 200 women with breast cancer and 50 healthy women. Using detailed statistics, they will select about 10 proteins whose combination most accurately predicts breast cancer. As a result, they will be able to build a custom biochip to detect this combination.

This inexpensive tool, designed for ease of use in medical offices, would complement mammography and perhaps even replace it one day. It would for instance enable earlier detection of tumours in women with dense breasts for whom mammography is less effective. Breast cancer is the most common among women, and one woman out of nine will contract the disease. Early detection is crucial in saving as many lives as possible. Unfortunately, last year alone, about 5,100 women in Canada and 1,350 in Quebec died of breast cancer.

Other projects:

“Google Street View” of the colon

In Ontario, Dr Fang’s team has received a $194,000 Innovation Grant from the Canadian Cancer Society to develop and test an innovative solution to the difficult problem of looking deep within the human colon for signs of cancer. It is “street-view” mapping – the same way Google does it – using cameras to take pictures in every direction, using blood vessels as “landmarks. With this new imaging technique, it will be much easier to detect and relocate abnormalities, such as polyps that can sometimes hide within the constantly moving folds of the colon.

Early detection of polyps is a vital part of fighting the disease. Polyps can be removed with surgery, thereby preventing some of them from degenerating into cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death for men and women combined. Last year, an estimated 23,300 Canadians (6200 Quebecers) were diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 9,200 died of it (2450 people in Quebec).

A vitamin D hybrid designed to counter drug resistance

Another Montreal-based team has received a $200,000 grant to test a new type of anti-cancer drug, a hybrid that combines, in a single molecule, the active portions of two existing molecules with anti-cancer properties.

Several studies seem to indicate that vitamin D may be useful in preventing cancer. John White, a McGill University researcher who is a vitamin D specialist, has gone one step further and wants to turn vitamin D into a tool for treating certain types of cancer. However, cancer cells adapt quickly and become resistant to vitamin D. To overcome this resistance, the researcher and his colleague, Dr Gleason, have combined vitamin D with a chemotherapy agent into a single hybrid molecule. If this innovative strategy works, it may lead to the development of a new class of drugs designed to circumvent resistance to chemotherapy.

7 M$ from the CCS in Innovation grants

Worth over $7 million in total, 37 new Canadian Cancer Society Innovation Grants were announced today, including 7 to scientists in Quebec. These grants are meant to ensure that novel ideas with the potential to change cancer are put to the test, at a time when peer review panels have become more conservative and risk-averse, emphasizing feasibility more than innovation. These grants support research that has the potential to significantly improve our understanding of cancer and generate new approaches to prevention, early detection and treatment.

For 75 years, the Canadian Cancer Society has been with Canadians in the fight for life. All these years, we have been relentless in our commitment to prevent cancer, fund research and support people touched by the disease. From this foundation, we will work with Canadians to change cancer forever so fewer Canadians are diagnosed with the disease and more survive. To know more about cancer, visit our website at cancer.ca or call our Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.

For more information, please contact:

André Beaulieu

Spokesperson and Senior Advisor, Public Relations

Canadian Cancer Society

Quebec Division

Phone: (514) 393-3444